That was the message from Dan Ungar, president of Lyndhurst, Ohio-based Mar-Lou Shoes at a presentation on best practices, hosted today by the National Shoe Retailers Association at FN Platform.
Ungar was joined on the stage by Jody Finnegan, owner of 12th Street Shoes in Bellingham, Wash., and Megan Sadjak, director of marketing for Stan’s Fit for Your Feet, based in Brookfield, Wisc.
All three retail veterans shared their techniques for creating a vibrant business through special events and promotions, customer outreach and community involvement.
Below are some of their most successful tactics:
1. Solicit feedback from shoppers — Mar-Lou invites customers to participate in focus groups during after-store hours, to gain insight and knowledge. Ungar said the sessions can target certain demographics, geographies and spending habits.
2. Host regular in-store events — Finnegan said that she is committed to holding at least one event at 12th Street each month. “We’ll try pretty much anything!” But she emphasized the importance of keeping upfront costs low. “That way, if the event doesn’t work, you don’t take a hit.”
3. Let your customers advertise your store — One of Mar-Lou’s top initiatives is its customer referral program. The store hands out 20%-off coupons to loyal customers to share with friends, and if the coupons are used, the referrer also receives a thank-you discount. “With the new-customer cards, we have a 3% return. But for the thank you cards, 50%.”
4. Take part in fashion shows — 12th Street often provides the shoes for fashion shows, and to further highlight footwear, it has the models carry around shoes on silver trays at the event. And Finnegan is now looking into airing a fashion show on Facebook Live.
5. Update your technology — Mar-Lou is currently converting the home phone numbers in its client records to cell numbers in order to eventually utilize text message promotions. And Stan’s has installed TVs in its stores to show brand videos and popular sporting events, a move aimed at its male customers.
6. Give back to the community — Stan’s holds an annual shoe-collecting drive, dubbed “Share a Pair,” and donates the items to area shelters and Soles4Souls. In addition, it also goes to the local library to teach kids about footwear and partners with other nonprofits and organizations.
7. Celebrate with your best shoppers — Each month, Mar-Lou sends out to postcards to customers who are marking a birthday, inviting them to return to the store to shop. And for big milestone birthdays, it mails out handwritten greeting cards that don’t include a solicitation but help foster goodwill.
8. Work with local medical professionals — One of Stan’s best events is a Wellness Day, where shoppers have the chance to consult with a local podiatrist, physical therapist and the store’s certified pedorthist. “It’s very low cost but has been extremely successful for us,” said Sadjak.
9. Try a pop-up — A couple of years ago, 12th Street hosted a one-day pop in a different area of Bellingham. Finnegan promoted heavily beforehand and saw clear results: “Women were lined up outside before we opened.”